Black living standards in South Africa before democracy: New evidence from heights

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP10/2017
 
Publication date: October 2017
 
Author(s):
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)
[protected email address] (Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)
[protected email address] (Department of History, University of Guelph, Canada)
 
Abstract:

Very little income or wage data was systematically recorded on the living standards of South Africa’s black majority during much of the twentieth century. This paper uses four data sets to document, for the first time, an alternative measure of living standards: the stature of black South Africans over the course of the twentieth century. We find evidence to suggest that the first three decades of the century were particularly bad, perhaps due to the increasingly repressive labour policies in urban areas and famine and land expropriation that weighted especially heavily on the Basotho. The decade following South Africa’s departure from the gold standard, a higher international gold price and the demand for manufactured goods from South Africa due to the Second World War seem to have benefited both black and white South Africans. The data also allow us to disaggregate by ethnicity within the black population group, revealing levels of inequality within race group that has been neglected in the literature. Finally, we compare black and white living standards, revealing the large and widening levels of inequality that characterised twentieth-century South Africa.

 
JEL Classification:

N37

Keywords:

apartheid, living standards, South Africa, heights, anthropometric, twentieth century

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BER Weekly

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BER Weekly

18 February 2019
There was a slew of data releases last week, both on the domestic and international front. Domestic releases focused on real economic data for December 2018, all but completing the picture for 2018Q4 GDP. In financial markets, the rand lost further ground last week on the back of a strong US dollar and the return of load shedding. On the international...

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